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December 8, 2019
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Georgia, Oregon look for second chance at first playoff impression

Georgia, Oregon look for second chance at first playoff impression
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College football had a party in Week 10, and none of the cool kids showed up. No Alabama or LSU, no Ohio State or Penn State, no Oklahoma or even Minnesota. OK, so Clemson swung by, said hello, raided the fridge and dropped 59 on Wofford, but that hardly counts.

Instead, Saturday was for the second tier of playoff candidates — not the favorites but the teams waiting in the wings for someone else to screw up. It was like the deleted scenes from a season of “The Bachelor”: no roses but enough melodrama that you can’t help but watch.

Start in Jacksonville, Florida, where the one-loss Gators and one-loss Bulldogs faced off in what amounted to a playoff elimination game. The Bulldogs’ defense sure looked ready for a late push for an SEC title, utterly suffocating Florida’s ground game to the tune of 19 total yards in a 24-17 win. There was a lot to like about Georgia’s performance. The Dawgs were dominant on third down. Jake Fromm had a solid game, completing 20 of 30 for 279 yards and two scores. Lawrence Cager continues to be one of the top non-QB transfers of the 2019 season. Yet it still felt a bit flat.

Nearly from the outset, Georgia seemed on the verge of breaking the game wide-open but never quite did. The offense never went three-and-out, but it settled for kicks on three of five red zone drives. D’Andre Swift had a nifty 30-yard run, but his other 24 carries amounted to 56 yards. Coming off a couple of lackluster offensive performances — albeit one in driving rain — the 24 points against Florida didn’t exactly erase concerns about the Bulldogs’ ability to move the ball against good teams. Against Power 5 opponents, no current playoff contender is scoring less than Georgia (26.3 per game). The defense is good enough to keep Fromm & Co. in every game, but as the South Carolina loss three weeks ago showed, the offense has to do its job, too.

Out west, the Pac-12’s playoff hopes have been on life support nearly all season, but Utah managed to toe the line just a bit longer, escaping an upset attempt by Washington 33-28 on the strength of a game-changing pick-six by Jaylon Johnson in the third quarter. The Utes — along with Georgia and Oklahoma — have losses that won’t be easily shrugged off by the playoff committee, and like Clemson, they don’t have a single win that offers a clear picture that there’s something special simmering beneath the surface. But they’re alive, and thanks to USC’s loss to Oregon, the Utes control their destiny in the Pac-12 South.

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Oregon scores on offense, defense and special teams, including three Justin Herbert touchdown passes to Juwan Johnson.

As with Georgia, Oregon’s defense was terrific Saturday, clearly looking ready for a run to the playoff. The Ducks nabbed four takeaways and utterly tormented Kedon Slovis, trouncing USC 56-24. That looks like a score a playoff team would put up, but there were some cracks in Oregon’s stellar facade. Oregon was flagged 12 times for 157 yards and didn’t run the ball well, and the offense was boom-or-bust. Auburn’s lackluster affair against Ole Miss on Saturday didn’t exactly put a shine on the Ducks’ résumé either. None of that matters much compared to a blowout win of that magnitude, but when there’s a “1” in the loss column, the committee’s going to be looking closely at the little things.

Then there’s SMU. The Mustangs probably weren’t legitimate playoff contenders anyway. The committee can give lip service to adding a Group of Five team, but it wasn’t going to happen. Still, the glimmer of hope was officially extinguished when Brady White and Memphis proved to be too much. It’s a shame. We can only imagine the type of parade they would throw for a claimed — but far from official — national title in Texas. It could’ve put UCF to shame.

When the dust settled, Georgia, Utah and Oregon survived and advanced. If the Bulldogs win the SEC, they’ll almost certainly nab a playoff berth. If Oregon or Utah wins out, either could have a case — maybe a strong one. But while all three used Week 10’s spotlight to remind the committee that they’re still alive and kicking, they all showed a few signs of why they’ve been relegated to the playoff back burner, too.

Can we get a do-over?

It’s time to set your clocks back an hour, but a number of schools that made big-name coaching hires before the 2018 season wish they could turn the clock back two full years.



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